DUBAI, United Arab Emirates, (AP) — A blind American traveler says he was stopped from getting on a flight in Dubai on Tuesday because of his disability — a decision the government-run airline insists was a mistake it regrets.
Zuhair Mahmoud, of Arlington, Virginia, told The Associated Press he ran into problems when he went to check in for a 10:10 a.m. flight on FlyDubai to Amman. He was planning a brief stay in the Jordanian capital before heading back to the United States.
“They looked at me and said: ‘Well, we can’t take you. … You’re traveling alone,'” he recalled.
Mahmoud protested and asked employees to check with their superiors. He said he was told that there was nothing they could do because it was airline policy not to allow a blind traveler onboard unaccompanied.
“I was mad. … I couldn’t believe it,” the 37-year-old information technology specialist said. “I tried to reason with them, but I just got a single cold answer.”
He left the airport and went to stay at a brother’s house in Dubai until he could catch another flight out.
The airline doesn’t dispute Mahmoud’s account.
Its chief executive apologized for the incident and said the carrier does not discriminate against blind passengers or others with special needs. FlyDubai also promised to rebook Mahmoud on another flight that’s convenient for him and offered him a voucher for a free flight to make up for the mishap.
“This morning’s events were extremely unfortunate and should not have happened. We will conduct a full investigation to find out what went wrong in this situation and take all means necessary to ensure it does not happen again,” FlyDubai CEO Ghaith al-Ghaith said in an e-mail to the AP.
The discount carrier has grown quickly since it was launched by the Gulf city-state’s government in June last year. It focuses on low-cost short-haul flights throughout the Middle East.
Al-Ghaith is a former executive at Dubai’s flagship airline Emirates. The two carriers operate as separate airlines, though both are owned by the emirate of Dubai and are chaired by an uncle of the sheikdom’s ruler.
Mahmoud said he is keeping his options open, including possible legal action.
He wants the airline and UAE government regulators to take steps to ensure the same thing doesn’t happen to others.
“I’m probably not going to come back to Dubai ever unless I’m assured these sorts of things aren’t going to happen anymore,” he said. “The real test is how it’s handled and how it’s reacted to. Mistakes happen all the time. It’s how you deal with them that defines who you are.”